What "If"? day 1

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SWBAT discover the theme of a poem through close reading.

Big Idea

Simple rules for life.

Finding Resources

10 minutes

Sooooooo.....ELA teachers in my district were asked to try to teach an Engage New York Module at some point this spring.  I have been putting it off because we don't have the novels that go along with each unit, so I know I won't see the full picture.  

I'm having some challenges following along, so this lesson is a modified version of Engage NY.  The resources on their website are awesome, but I am finding them a little overwhelming.  I think I need an inservice on how to navigate through the units. I chose to try this poem because as I was reading through the modules, and the poem "IF" by Rudyard Kipling caught my eye.  I love this poem because of the advice for living that it offers.  I felt much less overwhelmed trying one isolated lesson rather than an entire module or unit.  It's kind of a random choice, but we are studying poetry! We are at the point in our study where I feel like the students can analyze a more complex text.  They will have to really study some of the words and phrases in order to figure out exactly what the author means.  

So far today, I have had a few mishaps with printing specific pages which resulted in me printing the entire module at least once and calling IS&T at the district office to turn of the printer when the whole 249 pages started printing again.  I am trying to sift through it all, and find the resources I need to teach the poem "If".  Did I mention that my students kept pulling the pages off the printer so they are all out of order?  Ugh.  Did I also mention that I had just reprimanded my students for printing unnecessary documents right before this?  

Stanza 1

15 minutes

The Engage New York web site has a great graphic organizer for this poem that I want to use to help my students keep track of their ideas as they read this poem.  For the first stanza, they will write down what they notice, wonder about, and finally paraphrase the stanza.  Engage NY also provides a list of guiding questions to help the students paraphrase.  

Before we begin, I will read the entire poem aloud to my students and ask them what they notice.  We will have a very quick discussion about their initial impressions.  

I will attack STANZA 1 by reading it aloud to the students.  Next, I'll ask them to read stanza 1 silently and fill out the "Notices" and "Wonderings" sections of their graphic organizer.   


I'll read the first two lines again aloud to the students. .  I'll ask

"What does it mean to lose your head or keep it?"

 I'll ask students to share out their ideas.  Then we will tackle the next two lines in the same way and finally the last three.  

My other key questions will be:

What does it mean to trust yourself when all men doubt you?

What is it like when you are not tired by waiting?

What does it mean to not deal in lies or give way to hating?  

Why would you not want to look too good or talk too wise?  


After we discuss these questions, I'll ask students to paraphrase the first stanza on their graphic organizer.  

Breaking Down Stanza 2 and 3

20 minutes

For stanzas two and three, I am going to have the students do sort of a jigsaw.  I'll have them choose a partner and number off 1 and 2.  Then they'll go back to their seats to work.  I'll have the 1's work through stanza 2 and 2's work through stanza 3.  

First I'll have students read their assigned stanza looking for unknown words.  I will quickly define all of these words.  

Next, I'll have students read the stanza again and jot down at least 2 things they notice and one question.  

Now, I'll have all ones move to one side of the room and twos to the other.  I'll instruct students to make small groups of 3 or 4 with people who have their same number.  As a group, they will go through the stanza line by line and try to come up with the meaning.  I will also be circulating and helping students because these stanzas are tough!  


Some guiding questions for STANZA 2 include:

What does it mean to not make thoughts your aim?  

What does it mean to treat Triumph and Disaster just the same? Why might they be impostors? Why are these words capitalized?

What is a trap for fools?

What do you understand about the line"Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken?  What is broken?  Who broke it?

Why are the tools described as warn out?  What does this mean?

Some guiding questions for STANZA 3 include:

What do you think the author means by "one turn of pitch and toss?"

What does "lose and start again at your beginnings mean?"

What does it mean to "never breathe a word about your loss?"

What does it mean to make "your heart and nerve and sinew serve your turn long after they are gone?"

What does the author mean by "so hold on when there is nothing in you?"

Why is "Will" capitalized in the last line of the stanza?  Why does the author call it "the Will?"


Once students have done this, I'll have them work together to paraphrase their stanzas.  I'll guide them to write several sentences that explain the meaning in their own words.  

The purpose of examining the poem line-by-line is to help students carefully analyze each word. Poetry is short.  Each word is placed there for a reason, and I want my students to figure this out.  


15 minutes

Now, I will have the original partners join up again.  Each person will take turns guiding his or her partner through the stanza by reading it, sharing what was noticed, and asking questions.  I'll ask each student to go through the poem line by line and explain the meaning before paraphrasing.  

I am hoping that this strategy will help students take more ownership of their learning because they are responsible for teaching someone else.  It also provides them with opportunities for movement which are important for students of this age.  

My biggest concern is the difficulty of this poem!  I won't be surprised if many of my students have trouble deciphering the meaning.  It is much more difficult, and longer, than other poems we've read.  

We will save stanza 4 for tomorrow, but  before we leave, I'll ask students to quickly summarize the first 3 stanzas with a shoulder partner.

Next, I'll ask students to think of something this poem reminds them of and make a connection.  I'll have them share these connections out with the class.